The Centrality of Feelings

Three realms of relating – the personal, the creative and the global – all these three hinge on feelings. And I know how we – myself included – can shy away from this. Whole philosophies are built on avoiding the complexities of feelings in favour of conceptual logic. And faith systems can grow upon a similar avoidance, relying in stead on principles and visions written down. It might even be said that civilization itself is an attempt to gain dominance over feelings through social organization by law.

Just the other day, Joke and I had a deep conversation around what drives and builds our togetherness. Is it verbal or contractual agreements? Is it following a certain programme of values or ideas? Why do we find ourselves getting stuck as soon as we revert to demands of a certain obedience? Obedience to agreements or principles or strong arguments?

Time and again we only get through a hiccup once we acknowledge the underlying feeling of a situation, once we express those feelings simply for what they are and not exploiting them to exact a demand. We become vulnerable expressing them and only in that state do we feel each other’s insides, can we relate to where the other is, and then, often beyond our careful logical thoughts, a solution presents itself to the impasse. It is as if feelings, being flowing and watery in character, spontaneously reshape our mental constructions, so they can communicate and connect again – like a river carving its way towards the ocean.

I have been grappling with the nature of feelings since embarking on a career of improvisation: how can the formless flow of feeling provide any reliable structure? Perhaps better to compare it with breathing (ha!): feeling is the dimension of breath to any thing. The old adage: to be like a reed in the wind, to bend, in order not to break.. So then, in relating to each other, it is the acknowledgement of feeling that provides the breathing that keeps the structure standing. It is the soft, vulnerable stuff that provides strength.

That is why it is so counter productive to objectify feelings, to turn love into Love, for instance. In other words, to turn a feeling into an Ideal (or idea). Love has no practical effect if it is not also physically felt, and as a feeling it is never static, nor eternal. If I play on stage and hit an inspired phrase or mood, it only speaks well when I flow with it, breathe it until its life is spent. Whenever I try to capture it, retain it, like a bird into a cage, it loses its soul. What holds us together on the most basic level are not captured truths, but real feelings that keep flowing – the whole spectrum of them.

How, as a species, do we feel our way then through on a global scale? We can only move the critical things if we are open to being moved. It is our feelings that motor our minds, in spite of our pretensions that it is the other way around. If we can uncover the true feelings driving our behaviour, whether beneficial or destructive, and express those, many of our most intractable problems might just solve themselves, like shifting sands listening to the wind.

I say all of this with a bit of trembling, as this journey hardly ends and is often hard. Yet the rewards of heartfelt living are not only fulfilling but also nourishing. It sustains meaning. Shall we then become less civilized in order to live closer to our feelings? Will we not lose order and structure by doing that? My guess is that our structures will simply become more reliable and our orders less suffocating. The whole planet is waiting for that.


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